Monday, November 27, 2006

Yours, Mine and Ours

Up to now, I haven’t told you all very much about my ‘family of origin’, and I really should, as that’s been a pretty formative influence in my life.

I’ve told you that I was adopted. My parents also adopted another boy, my brother, 2-1/2 years younger than me. And, for all intents and purposes, that was our family.

Until I was nine, when my mother left my dad. To this day, I don’t really know why she left him. My dad is a solid man, the best man I’ve ever known. But he can be stubborn and hard to live with. Knowing what I do now about my mother, she was sensitive and fairly insecure, and I think she just decided one day that she didn’t want to deal with it anymore. So she left. And for all intents and purposes, that was the last I saw of her for more than 20 years.

That summer when I was nine, Dad started seeing a woman, herself divorced, with three kids (a boy and two girls) roughly the same ages as my brother and me. They were married the following winter, and suddenly, we had five kids in our family, spanning less than three years. Within a year, my stepmother (I’ve never called her anything but ‘Mom’) gave birth to a baby boy, and four years after that, she had another boy, so we ended with seven kids in a ‘yours-mine-and-ours’ blended family.

Everything I’ve read about ‘blended’ families emphasizes how difficult they are to pull off – how few of them succeed, and how many of them end in disaster. It didn’t work that way for us. We had lots of challenges, to be sure. My stepbrother and I were almost exactly the same age, and a fairly nasty struggle ensued over who was going to be the ‘alpha male’ of the litter. He won that struggle in the short run, but I think I won it in the long run.

My parents worked real hard to forge a new family identity for us. There was never any real distinction made as to who had come to the family from which direction, or which kids ‘belonged’ to which parent. And it must have worked – none of us has ever referred to each other as ‘step-brother’ or ‘step-sister’. As far as I remember, we’ve always just thought of each other as ‘brothers and sisters’. Partly just as a kind of short-hand, I suppose, but we really did come to think of each other that way. It probably also helped when the two younger boys came along, to sort of provide a ‘focal point’ that we all had in common.

It probably also helped that both of the ‘ex-es’ basically disappeared from the scene. There were no ‘sharing’ arrangements, no ‘weekends at Mom’s house’, or anything like that. The focus just shifted to the new family, and life went on.

Our family wasn’t perfect, by a long shot. But, as I look back on it, the more I think about it, the more impressed I am at the job my parents did of building a new family out of the ashes of two broken ones. On my own behalf, I can say that their marriage, and the family they built together, probably saved my life; and I think any of my brothers and sisters could say the same.

My folks celebrated their 40th anniversary last winter, and it was a great opportunity for all of us to celebrate the life that they built together, and the ways in which we’ve all benefited from it.


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